HARTFORD — Plans to open Hartford’s first recreational marijuana shop downtown suffered a major blow Tuesday, after city lawyers agreed that the Capital Region Development Authority controlled zoning in the Front Street neighborhood, and not the city.
The city’s department of development services had endorsed the proposal for adult-use cannabis sales at 89 Arch St. and the city’s planning and zoning commission was in the midst of a hearing on the proposal in June that drew strong objects from CRDA.
CRDA argued that it is controlled zoning throughout Front Street, including 89 Arch, and the broader, surrounding Adriaen’s Landing development district. The cannabis shop was not consistent with the area’s family-focused entertainment, CRDA said.
Those objects touched off a debate over who had jurisdiction in the matter: CRDA or the city.
In a legal opinion presented at Tuesday’s planning and zoning commission meeting, assistant corporation council Richard A. Vassillo, said CRDA correctly asserted that it had control over zoning at 89 Arch because it was part of larger Adriaen’s Landing district but it “was a struggle to verify mostly due to the seeming unavailability of the documents.”
“Based on what has been finally provided by the CRDA” including land and remediation surveys and a master development plan dating back to 2000 when Adriaen’s Landing was created, Vassallo wrote that 89 Arch is within the district and therefore, under CRDA’s jurisdiction.
But Vassallo emphasized the difficulty in making the determination, observing: “This writer suggests that transparency would benefit greatly from the CRDA posting and making readily available the controlling ‘master development plan.’ “
The dispute placed CRDA at odds with the city, with whom it has consistently partnered with on redevelopment projects in the last decade. The city had said the cannabis shop plans met zoning requirements, would boost tourism and foot traffic and encourage entrepreneurial, innovative businesses.
Derrick C. Gibbs Jr., a partner in the proposed cannabis shop, said, after the commission accepted the legal opinion Tuesday, that he was in shock at how the issue unfolded this summer.
Gibbs said he also was puzzled by CRDA’s suggestion of alternate locations in the city, including one that is in the new, North Crossing development near Dunkin’ Donuts Park. CRDA has said it was concerned about how the shop, among other things, would affect convention center bookings.
“Very strange that they are saying that Arch Street is family-friendly but next to the Yard Goats stadium that’s not family friendly?” Gibbs said. “We tried our best. We thought it was a good location. We’ll go to another city. It’s not a big deal.”
Gibbs said he and his partners would not consider another site in Hartford.
“The way that this played out it put a bad taste in my mouth and my partners’,” Gibbs said.
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Gibbs and one of his partners in the proposed venture, Carl Terilla Jr., told planning and zoning commission members in June that the store would be high-end, meeting all the requirements for a state license. They planned to purchase 89 Arch, the former location of Blind Pig Pizza.
This would include security inside and outside the store, the checking of IDs to make sure patrons were 21 or older and that no items would be visible from the street. There would be no advertising in windows or neon, flashing cannabis leaf signs.
Gibbs said he expected the typical customer would spend between $100 and $150 a visit. He said sales would mostly be pre-orders and by appointment. All products would be pre-packaged with no odors and there would be no consumption on the premises, which is prohibited by state regulations.
“There were questions about whether this was going to be a quote-unquote a hole-in-the-wall shop,” Gibbs said, at the hearing in June. “I can assure that is not going to be the case.”
More than two decades ago, Adriaen’s Landing was created by the state lawmakers. That led to the development of the convention center, the Connecticut Science Center and Front Street, which includes restaurants, entertainment venues, apartments and a UConn regional campus.
CRDA and its predecessor, both quasi-public agencies, were given control to shape the development. CRDA says long-standing agreements prohibit such uses as check-cashing, pawn shops, firearms sellers, the sale of pornographic items, head shops — and cannabis sales.
Contact Kenneth R. Gosselin at firstname.lastname@example.org.